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Can This Garden Be Saved: ‘My Vegetable Garden Looks Messy’

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Can This Garden Be Saved: ‘My Vegetable Garden Looks Messy’

September 29, 2017

A great kitchen garden depends on a delicate balance, hovering between “organized” and “chaos.” No matter how decadent the top half is, a grid of sharp lines keeps an edible garden organized at the base.

Problem: You want an abundant, productive kitchen garden that isn’t a mess.

Solution: Use permanent landscape edging.

Photography by Jim Powell, for Gardenista.

 Straight or curved, this metal landscape edging is easy to assemble, according to the resident vegetable grower at my house.
Above: Straight or curved, this metal landscape edging is easy to assemble, according to the resident vegetable grower at my house.

Everedge has a stand every year at the Chelsea Flower Show (which is where we spotted the landscape edging), with people buzzing around, talking about wish lists. When garden owners install professional edging they always point it out, partly because it can be eye-wateringly expensive but also because crisp edges make people happy.

Before

Runner beans with a fringe of clover and cow parsley.
Above: Runner beans with a fringe of clover and cow parsley.

In a lawn, flowers form part of a green tapestry, rarely finding expression unless that lawn is allowed to grow into a meadow. In the case of this newly dug vegetable garden, they quickly sent out runners over tended, fertile soil. Creeping buttercup, clover, and pea-like black medick have a talent for this.

After

 Metal landscape edging stops the creeping tendency of some weeds.
Above: Metal landscape edging stops the creeping tendency of some weeds.

Assuming that you have decided not to trim vegetable beds with snail-harboring boxwood (which also uses up valuable space and nutrients while blocking air flow), the effect of a prepared bed will be neat and sparse for a short time. As plants fill out, so the edges become fuzzy unless they are trimmed every time the lawn is mowed.

It is a fact that a garden that is open to the public stands or falls on the sharpness of its edging. Grand gardens used to rely on strips of steel to keep grass off the paths but, like teams of gardeners, this has become archaic. About 20 years ago, engineer Richard Hall investigated the idea of using a thinner gauge of steel, since the need for labor-saving efficiency was perhaps greater than ever. His solution was a a powder-coated galvanized steel that is half an inch thick and perfectly pliable.

Straight edges and deep furrows give the impression of a vegetable garden that is carefully tended, instead of being left to its own devices. These impermanent edges will need to be trimmed and re-sliced from time to time.
Above: Straight edges and deep furrows give the impression of a vegetable garden that is carefully tended, instead of being left to its own devices. These impermanent edges will need to be trimmed and re-sliced from time to time.
Lawnmowers cut straight over, when the edges are reinforced.
Above: Lawnmowers cut straight over, when the edges are reinforced.

Like a dry stone wall, the bare bones of a garden are important to get right, even more so when all is bare in winter. When ordering edging which is bespoke, try not to measure a bed when the edges have gone blurry with creeping buttercup, as you will underestimate the size.

 Above: Our garden, a story of before and after.
Above: Above: Our garden, a story of before and after.

N.B.: Kendra solves more pesky problems:

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